Dixie County athlete to play in Super Bowl


Published: Monday, January 31, 2011 at 9:33 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 31, 2011 at 9:33 a.m.

From Pop Warner legend to overlooked small-school high school star to three-time All-Pro NFL performer, Nick Collins has crafted quite a success story for himself in football.

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Green Bay Packers' Sam Shields, right, and Nick Collins have some fun during NFL football practice, Friday, Jan. 21, 2011, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers face the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship on Sunday in Chicago. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Now, it gets even bigger - even better.

Let's just call it a Super success story.



The former Dixie County star whose high school coach once questioned whether he was good enough to play for him has reached the pinnacle - the Super Bowl. Collins, selected to the Pro Bowl the past three seasons, is the starting safety for the Green Bay Packers, who face Pittsburgh for football's ultimate prize Sunday in Dallas.

"It's been an amazing journey," Collins said. "It's a dream come true and a blessing. At the same time, I feel fortunate just to have this opportunity. It hasn't really hit me yet that I'm playing in the Super Bowl."

It's hit his hometown. Cross City is all abuzz about it's favorite football son playing in Sunday's big game.

"I'm proud of him. The whole community is," said Dixie County coach Brent Wilkerson, Collins' high school coach. "He grew up in Cross City. This is where he was a Pop Warner legend and where he went to middle school and high school. His entire early career, it was right here. I was lucky enough to come in and become the Dixie County coach Nick's sophomore year (when Collins was on the JV) and have a chance to coach him for two years.

"He's a great guy. If you've ever met him, he's just a old humble country boy. He doesn't act like he's anything special. There's nothing glamorous or showboat about him. He's very humble. He's around the kids here a lot. He tries to be as good a role model as he can be."

Despite all of his success, Collins has not forgotten where he comes from. Collins, who spent the first four of his five NFL offseasons living in Gainesville, is a frequent visitor to Dixie County High and Cross City, where he has numerous family, including his mother, sister and older brother Tracy, who is the Dixie County basketball coach.

Collins recently donated $10,000 to his high school, and each year, he provides scholarships to some Dixie County students who otherwise might not have a chance to go to college.

"We're all on Earth for a purpose, and mine is coming back home and trying to help develop the young people," Collins said. "I want to be more than a football player. I want people to look at me as one of those guys willing to give back, willing to put his neck on the line for somebody who needs help."

Collins is so popular in Cross City that several citizens are trying to get together and charter a bus to Dallas this week. Even though they won't have tickets to the game, they just want to be there to share the moment with Collins, Tracy Collins said.

"Everybody's just excited for Nick," Tracy Collins said. "A lot of people want to be there to see him fulfill a dream."

Nick Collins is flying 13 immediate family members to Dallas later this week, including his mother, sister and brother. He's still working on trying to secure tickets for all 13.

"I just want them to be part of something special, something that might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Collins, 27, said. "I want my immediate family to get the experience, make them feel they are a part of something special.

"I appreciate all the support in Dixie County. They do support their people there. Unfortunately, not everyone there can come to Dallas. But I know they'll be in front of the television watching. I thank them for doing that."

One prominent family member will be missing (and missed) in Dallas. Willie Collins, Nick's father, died in 2008. He didn't live long enough to see his son play in the Super Bowl, but he witnessed his football success at every level - Pop Warner, high school, college (Bethune-Cookman) and pro.

"My father, he was something special," Collins said. "He broke down film with me. He used to call me after every game. He just stayed on me all the time. He used to let me know I can do things a little better. He played a major part in my success. I miss him and I wish he could be part of this, even though I know he will in a way."

Collins said his relentless work ethic is the reason he's come this far in football. He credits a lot of it to his father - and some of it to his high school coach early in his career at Dixie County.

"I remember one time my coach told me I'd never be able to play for him," Collins said. "By hearing that, my whole mind set about the game and work ethic changed. After that, I wanted to be the best at whatever was in front of me. It's been paying off."

Wilkerson said it's more than just work ethic. Collins also is a very talented guy, something that became obvious to Wilkerson at the start of Collins' junior year.

"I really didn't have a kid to play quarterback," Wilkerson said. "Nick agreed to do it and he did a great job. He also played cornerback and safety."

Collins went back to his more natural offensive position (tailback) for his senior season and rushed for more than 2,000 yards.

Wilkerson tried to sell the University of Florida and Florida State on Collins, but neither came up with a scholarship offer for the 170-pound tailback who lacked blazing speed.

"I sent tape to those two schools, but they weren't quite interested enough," Wilkerson said.

Collins signed with Bethune-Cookman College, instead, where he had to sit out his true freshman season as a Prop 48 athlete. In his final three seasons with the Wildcats, Collins developed into a dominant safety - and a pro prospect.

"He matured when he got to college," Wilkerson said. "He got bigger, stronger and faster. He ran a 4.5 (40-yard dash) in high school, which is pretty good. After he matured a little bit, he was down in the 4.3s. With his work ethic, I knew he had a chance to develop into a heck of a football player. He always had great instincts running the ball and playing defensive back."

Green Bay noticed - and the Packers used one of their two second-round picks in 2005 to draft Collins, who rapidly developed into one of the top safeties in the NFL. This season, he was named All-Pro for the third consecutive season. And he's playing in the Super Bowl.

"It's one of those things that words can't describe," Tracy Collins said. "Seeing him in this position, it's a wonderful feeling for him and our family. We're so blessed, and so proud of him. He's worked so hard. Nothing has been given to him. He's proof that hard work pays off."

Nick Collins said he's feeling good about being in the game - and good about the game.

"I feel like we've got a great chance," he said. "It's not going to be easy, but we feel we match up with (the Steelers) very well. We've got a confident group."

Whatever the Super Bowl outcome, Collins, his wife and three children (daughter and two sons) will find their way back to Cross City at some point this winter and spring.

"That's home," he said.

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